DAVID SPEERS: On the B20, this is a pretty high powered gathering of business leaders from the top 20 economies in the world. They are here as part of a few days of talks ahead of the Leaders Summit, which takes place in Brisbane later this year. Over the weekend, there'll also be a gathering of trade ministers from the top 20 economies. The G20 Trade Ministers Meeting will be chaired by our Trade and Investment Minister, Andrew Robb, who joins me now.
Minister, thanks for your time.
ANDREW ROBB: Thanks, David.
DAVID SPEERS: You've acknowledged that trade has slipped down the list of priorities for the G20 in recent years. You want to make it the heart of the agenda this year, in particular encouraging all G20 countries to break down trade barriers even more. What will Australia put on the table in that regard?
ANDREW ROBB: Well, we're going to try and lead by example if we can. I mean, the removal of destructive taxes that are killing competition – the carbon tax, the mining tax – our program for deregulation, which we've started, but we've got a lot more to do to streamline a lot of the approval processes, which in many cases, for the big projects, have blown out by up to two years, which is costing hundreds of millions. That's the increased cost of projects. We're looking at encouraging competition policy. We've got our own competition policy review, that increases innovation. The whole thing is what can we do in our countries, unilaterally, to make us more competitive and increase trade and investment and drive growth.
DAVID SPEERS: All of that's important, but is it breaking down the sort of barriers – admittedly, we don't have anywhere near as many trade barriers as some in the G20, but is there more that Australia can do to encourage freer trade?
ANDREW ROBB: Well, what we've said is this is a growth forum, how do we replace government spending, which has been driving growth, but unfortunately most of it's been debt – has been borrowed money, and countries – all of the G20 countries, overwhelmingly anyway, have been very enthusiastic about embracing this growth focus because they're all looking for other ways. They're all trying to now start reduced debt, live within their means, but they've got to replace that spending with private sector spending. So they're looking for trade, they're looking for investment.
So we've said, okay, what can you do, each of one of you, what can we all do unilaterally? And that is – we've got 2.7 per cent average tariff in Australia. A lot of that happened not just through trade agreements, it happened through unilateral and bipartisan agreement over the last 25 years, and that's made us a very open economy. Twenty-three years of uninterrupted economic growth. There's no one else in the G20 that's had uninterrupted economic growth. So we've got a good story to tell, but we can even improve it further.
DAVID SPEERS: Now, you've had success on trade deals with Japan and Korea, bilateral trade deals. The Government wants a trade deal with China this year. Are you still confident that is going to happen this year?
ANDREW ROBB: Yes. I feel – it's not going to be easy, because they're very hard negotiators, I've got to say, but there does seem to be a political will. I have been meeting regularly and talking with my counterpart, Minister Gao, and I think we have set a framework which, if we can fill it in with the negotiations, is doable by the end of the year.
DAVID SPEERS: We've, of course, seen some commentary from Chinese state run media about the visit of the Japanese Prime Minister to Australia and some of the things that Tony Abbott had to say in honouring Japan and, indeed, the skill and honour showed by Japanese troops in World War II. That's angered some in China, clearly. Does that sort of thing make it harder to achieve this trade deal?
ANDREW ROBB: Well, I had an hour and a half on the telephone last Saturday with my counterpart. He was in Beijing. We had interpreters at each end and we were carrying on the exercise of trying to progress a free trade agreement. I found no inference through that hour and a half that the visit by Prime Minister Abe had created a problem. I mean, we're...
DAVID SPEERS: Not slowed things down at all?
ANDREW ROBB: Well, it's not so long ago we took 700 businesspeople to China for a week through four cities and the Prime Minister finished up in Beijing with all the leaders, we've got to build trust and relationships throughout the region, and I think the Chinese accept that as long as we treat them with respect and we're true to our word and we build trust and understanding.
DAVID SPEERS: Are you saying the Chinese do completely separate the trade negotiations from their political concerns over Australia's relationship with Japan or the United States?
ANDREW ROBB: Well, you can't completely separate these things and there's different feelings between different countries. We did a deal with South Korea as well and you could say, well, they're not getting on as well as they used to with Japan. Has that caused – well, in the end, Japan's biggest trading partner is China, right, so whilst there are geopolitical issues, whilst we've got to be sensitive to those, and we are attempting to be, because that's sensible, we've got to keep still forging on and I think every country realises their own interests are best served by maximising the trade between all of our countries..
DAVID SPEERS: The United States and Australia and others are pushing a Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which would be the world's biggest, I think. It wouldn't include China [audio skips] discussed as part of the G20 gathering, which includes both China and the United States.
Well, I think one of the things which is certainly on the – with the Trade Ministers Meeting is what is the future of the world trading system. We've got I think some 300 odd different bilaterals and plurilaterals and regionals, like the TPP. How do these all come together at some stage? Now, the point is things such as having what they call open architecture, like we've got 12 countries in that Trans-Pacific Partnership, 40 per cent of the world's GDP, if we conclude a very what they call high quality or ambitions agreement, so we lower protection, but we get some harmonised rules between all of those 12 countries, it will really turbo charge trade and investment between our countries, just make it easier and cheaper and more worthwhile.
If we have the open architecture, countries will be able to come and join that trade deal. If they sign up to the same rules, the same ambition with reducing protection, they'll be able to join. Now, ultimately, some of these regional agreements, they should come together. There's another one which does include China and ourselves.
DAVID SPEERS: So you would like to see that come together.
ANDREW ROBB: Absolutely. I mean, to me these are building blocks, but they're sort of doable building blocks. Twelve is hard enough. You get that deal done, South Korea are breaking their neck to come into that deal straight away. The Philippines announced that they want to be part of it. And as soon as we're finished, if they're happy to meet the conditions and the rules that have been set by those 12 countries, they'll be welcomed with open arms.
DAVID SPEERS: But that's the sticking point, isn't it? The rules would exclude China in terms of how its market works.
ANDREW ROBB: Well, China could come in too, but at the same time there's...
DAVID SPEERS: What would they have to do though to come in?
ANDREW ROBB: Well, just meet the requirements of that deal. There's another one going on with trade, in services. There's 50 countries, we're leading that with the US and the EU, 50 countries which represent 70 per cent of all of the trade and services that happens around the world. Again, open architecture. If it's very ambitious in the sense that the barriers have reduced significantly, it'll be almost imperative for other countries to want to join, because they'll be missing out. Same principle, same with TPP. In the end, as I say, you've got to think of it - I had to think of it as building blocks. There's all these different agreements, ultimately if they're open, they can either merge or countries can come individually into each agreement, and I do think we head then towards, in the end, a sort of multilateral equivalent agreement.
DAVID SPEERS: And just finally, back to I guess where we started, your message to the G20 trade ministers about the need to get off the debt fuelled spending and finance their own spending without debt, in Australia, of course, the Government is having enormous trouble getting these Budget measures through the Senate, so does it weaken your argument at all that you haven't been able to actually bring down that debt more?
ANDREW ROBB: Well, it's early days. We brought down a Budget in May and it's July, we're, in many respects, waiting for the new Senate and it's going to be a bumpy ride, I think, but you know [indistinct]...
DAVID SPEERS: [Interrupts] But even the new Senate's not giving you a lot of love on these issues.
ANDREW ROBB: Well, not at the – but let's take – my view is I've been around a long time and things happen. You take one step at a time. The carbon tax is a huge step, and if we get that through, that will give us enormous credibility. I'm telling you, I've done 37 investment roundtables in 14 countries now in the last nine months, and if we get the carbon tax removed, I'm telling you our standing in terms of our [audio skips] and as a place to invest will go through the roof.
DAVID SPEERS: Trade Minister, Andrew Robb, thank you for joining us.
ANDREW ROBB: Thanks very much, David.
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